Widespread construction of the type experienced in Morgan Hill and the South Bay in recent years often means the loss of an untold number of mature trees from previously vacant land. But at least one builder in Morgan Hill has taken aim to relocate and preserve the trees that have been in the ground since long before any development plans were approved.
Weston Miles Architects recently hired Mighty Tree Movers, also based in Morgan Hill, to move eight mature trees—some fruit bearing—from the footprint of an upcoming construction project on Depot Street, while keeping the plants alive and thriving.
David Hamilton, owner of Mighty Tree Movers, and his crew moved the biggest of these trees on April 15. That morning, Hamilton used his massive hydraulic tree spade hooked up to a truck to move a 35-foot, 15-year-old London Plane tree. The crew and truck moved the tree about 50 feet—from its birthsite on the south side of the parking lot next to the Granary building to a spot closer to the sidewalk on Depot Street.
The tree, and others moved by Hamilton in previous days, was standing in the way of the final phase in the development of the Granary District, explained Lesley Miles of Weston Miles Architects, owner of the project. Construction on that phase—a two-story, 2,750-square-foot commercial building west of the Union Pacific railroad tracks and just next to where the district’s signature grain silos stand—is likely to start this summer.
Weston Miles Architects co-owners Miles and Charles Weston preferred to save the existing trees on the property rather than destroy them.
“The opportunity to move a tree rather than cut it down is huge,” Miles said. “It really is a viable option.”
When the couple first began developing the Granary District about 15 years ago, there were no trees on the property, which extends to the corner of East Main Avenue. Miles and Weston planted heritage fruit trees, Blenheim apricots and Italian plums—some of which occupy the district’s signature private orchard. The couple also planted a number of London Planes, California Live Oaks and flowering crabapples.
“With our new project…we needed to adjust the trees,” Miles said. “Instead of cutting down the trees, we looked into moving the trees.”
Miles noted that it doesn’t cost that much more to move a tree in its live state than it does to cut it down and discard it. But that’s just one of many advantages to saving a tree during construction or remodeling, Miles added:It’s a sustainable way to mix human and animal life; mature trees keep property values up; it preserves homes for birds and other wildlife; and it offers cool shade in the summer months.
Thus the developer reached out to Hamilton at Mighty Tree Movers. Hamilton, a certified arborist and Morgan Hill resident, has been in the tree replanting, removal and storage business for nearly a dozen years. Before that, he had a career in high technology, during which time he maintained an active bonsai tree collection as a hobby.
“I decided to leave high tech 11 years ago, and moved on to big trees,” Hamilton said. He started his company in Los Gatos, and moved south about eight years ago.
Business is robust with all the construction underway throughout the South Bay. Other general contractors like Weston Miles—who aim to preserve mature trees in the way of a development—hire Mighty Tree Movers to move a live tree to Hamilton’s property during construction, and move it back 12 to 18 months later when the project is finished, Hamilton explained.
Tree moving and storage is “green by the nature of the business,” and that’s one reason Hamilton is so devoted to his profession. “It’s much more satisfying than cutting down a tree and chopping it up,” he said. “We like to tell a client, ‘You just saved an $8,000 tree.’”
For the Granary District, Hamilton is storing a smaller London Plane tree on his property near San Martin while Weston Miles completes the new expansion. Then he will move it back and replant it in a suitable location.
The larger tree moved on April 15 was planted in a spot where a smaller London Plane appeared to be suffering, between the sidewalk and adjacent parking lot. Mighty Tree Movers also moved four fruit trees from one side of the Granary District’s orchard to another, to make way for a trash enclosure that they’re moving as part of the upcoming construction.
Miles praised the City of Morgan Hill for its support of efforts like the recent tree removal at the Granary District. But she believes even more could be done to reduce tree destruction during construction of new buildings. For example, she said, “We have lots of parks in town that we can move trees to.”